This weekend, Sept.7 and 8, has been designated by Pope Francis as a time of "Fasting and prayer for Peace in Syria, the Middle East and throughout the world." Bishop Marcus Lohrmann of the NW Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has asked its members to join their Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in observing that call which has special urgency for our nation because it comes just before Congress returns to Washington to take up the question of military intervention in Syria.
In the midst of all the talk of retribution, military action, bombing, etc., we hear the voices of many religious leaders calling us to stop and reflect on the teachings of their respective church bodies. Will we take the time to listen to those voices? Will we take the time to convey similar messages to members of Congress?
The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops has issued a petition urging Congress to choose dialogue and diplomacy in Syria, noting "the path of dialogue and negotiation between all components of Syrian society, with the support of the international community, is the only option to put an end to the conflict and to the violence that every day causes the loss of so many lives. ..."
Mark Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, states: "While we weep for the victims of the most recent incident, I am nevertheless convinced that any U.S. military intervention within Syria will potentially release even greater suffering on an even wider scale. ... Our Christian companions in that region wonder why - not withstanding these chemical weapons attacks - the U.S. is considering an action that cannot help but increase suffering among Syrian civilians and potentially unleash a broader regional war."
Yes, the use of chemical weapons in Syria is heinous and inexcusable - just as much as the use of similar weapons at other times, other places, by other people and groups. All such atrocities are a violation of international standards and law.
However, I believe the people of Syria, along with many others in the Middle East who are living through this time of instability, deserve our concern, compassion and accompaniment, rather than the escalation of an already horrendous war. This situation can never be solved with bombs, and calls for diplomatic efforts and true dialogue among Syrians of goodwill.